Rights groups and church leaders on Tuesday urged the government to halt the imminent execution of a man for a murder committed in 1992, saying his conviction was flawed.
The plea for mercy for Aftab Bahadur Masih, who is due to be hanged on Wednesday, comes after Shafqat Hussain, another prisoner condemned to death in contentious circumstances was granted a last-minute reprieve.
According to the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a human rights law firm handling his case, Masih was only 15 when he was arrested over a murder in the eastern city of Lahore.
The JPP say he was convicted on the basis of a confession extracted through torture from his co-accused Ghulam Mustafa, along with another eyewitness, and both have since retracted their statements.
British anti-death penalty campaign group Reprieve said it was a “scandal” that Pakistan was planning to hang Masih.
“The execution of this innocent man, arrested as a child, should immediately be halted,” Reprieve’s Maya Foa said in a statement.
In a moving essay penned in Urdu and translated by Reprieve, Masih recalls the horrors of being on death row.
The text of his essay is below:
I just received my black warrant. It says I will be hanged by the neck until dead on Wednesday, June 10.
I am innocent, but I do not know whether that will make any difference.
During the last 22 years of my imprisonment, I have received death warrants many times. It is strange, but I cannot even tell you how many times I have been told that I am about to die.
Obviously it feels bad whenever the warrants are issued. I start to count down the days, which is in itself painful, and I find that my nerves are shackled in the same way as my body.
In truth, I die many times before my death. I suppose my life experience is different from that of most people, but I doubt there is anything more dreadful than being told that you are going to die, and then sitting in a prison cell just waiting for that moment.
For many years – since I was just 15 years old – I have been stranded between life and death. It has been a complete limbo, total uncertainty about the future.
I am a Christian, and sometimes that is difficult here. Unfortunately, there is one prisoner in particular who has tried to make our lives more difficult. I don’t know why he does it.
I got very upset over the Christian bombings that took place in Peshawar. This hurt me deeply, and I wish that Pakistani people could possess a sense of nationality that overrode their sectarianism. There is a small group of us here who are Christians, just four or five, and we are now all in one cell, which has improved my life.
I do everything I can to escape my misery. I am an art lover. I was an artist – just an ordinary one – from my early days, when I was first conscious of anything.
Even back then, I was inclined towards painting, as well as writing verses. Although I had no training, it was just a gift of God. But after I was brought to jail I had no other way to express my feelings, as I was then in a state of complete alienation and loneliness.
I began some time ago to paint all the signs for the Kot Lakhpat jail, where I am held. Then I was asked to do signs for other jails. Nothing in this world can give me more happiness than the feeling when I paint some idea, or feeling on the canvas. It is my life, so I am happy to do it. My workload is great, and I am exhausted at the end of each day, but I am glad of that, as it keeps my mind off other things.
I have no family to visit me, so when someone does come, it is a wonderful experience. It allows me to reap ideas from the outside world that I can then lay down on my canvas. Being asked about how I was tortured by the police brought back terrible memories that I turned into pictures, though it would perhaps have been better not to have to think of what the police did to try to get me to confess falsely to this crime.
When we heard the news about lifting the death penalty moratorium in December 2014, fear prevailed throughout the cells of the prison here. There was an overriding sense of horror. The atmosphere hung, gloomy, over us all. But then the executions actually started at Kot Lakhpat jail, and everyone started to go through mental torture. Those who were being hanged had been our companions for many years on this road to death, and it is only natural that their deaths left us in a state of despair.
While the death penalty moratorium was ended on the pretext of killing terrorists, most of the people here in Kot Lakhpat are charged with regular crimes. Quite how killing them is going to stop the sectarian violence in this country, I cannot say.
I hope I do not die on Wednesday, but I have no source of money, so I can only rely on God and on my volunteer lawyers. I have not given up hope, though the night is very dark.
Church leaders also appealed for a reprieve for Masih, who is a Christian. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Karachi, Joseph Coutts, has written to President Mamnoon Hussain asking for Masih’s hanging to be delayed so his case can be investigated.
In a separate letter several other church leaders including Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester in Britain, also called for clemency.
“Bahadur has now spent 23 years in prison — more than a life sentence — for a crime that the two witnesses on which his conviction rest now say he is innocent,” the letter says.
“To execute Bahadur in these circumstances would be to commit a grave injustice.”
Earlier on Tuesday Shafqat Hussain, sentenced to hang for killing a seven-year-old boy in Karachi in 2004, had an 11th-hour stay of execution.
Hussain’s supporters say he was a juvenile when the crime was committed and was also tortured into confessing.
More than 130 convicts have been hanged since restarting executions in December after Taliban militants murdered more than 150 people at a school, most of them children.
A moratorium on the death penalty had been in force since 2008, and its end angered rights activists and alarmed some foreign countries.